The Gears of Destiny

On Christmas Day, I received the limited edition version (which they decided to tag as the "God Box" for no apparent reason) of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's Portable: The Gears of Destiny, a game that officially came out two days earlier on the 23rd. (Incidentally, I now have two decent-sized boxes with Nanoha characters on them, that and the 1st Movie limited edition DVD set. Pretty soon I will be able to store all of my stuff in Nanoha boxes.) Since then, I have logged nearly twenty hours of play time, unlocked all the characters, and ran the entire story mode through to completion.

Yes, I like what I got for Christmas. Is it that obvious? Anyway, I figured I'd ramble on about my new game a little, so I guess you could call this a review of sorts?

The game itself is a fighting game at its core. It's distinguished particularly by a mechanic that's carried over from the last Nanoha PSP game, the distinction between close and long range combat. At first, at close to medium range (defined by a circle around your character), the game is a 2D style fighting game, although lacking anything like the combos that you get in most such games. Once you open the range, however, battle shifts to a long range mode, and your controls change over to provide you with a new set of attacks.

Of course, like pretty much any Japanese game I can think of (certainly any of the ones I play), the game has a well-developed story, presented in visual novel style interludes between individual fights. I rather suspect that it helps for the game to call upon an existing cast of characters, and there's no doubting that the story would be much less understandable to someone who didn't know anything about the Nanoha world. (Setting aside, of course, the fact that it is all in Japanese. I'm sure I'm not the only one thinking of translating it, but I haven't bothered checking to see if anyone's actually gotten anywhere with that yet.)

The story itself is very typically Nanoha. Unknown new people arrive in Nanoha's world, and the antagonists from the last game are revived along with a whole host of new issues. The two original characters for this game, Kyrie and Amitie (or usually just Amita) Florian, are at the center of it all, and they're fighting with each other on top of that. Like pretty much every Nanoha story, it's gloriously over the top (time to save the world again!) and yet it's good at bringing out the characters and making them unique and interesting. Especially the original characters, or the original characters from the first game (the Materials, dark versions of Nanoha, Fate, and Hayate), all of whom get their own personalities and idiosyncrasies.

The game play itself is honestly a little more forgettable, to tell the truth. The AI in the game is... somewhat spotty. At close range, it's far more capable than I am, most of the time. Which doesn't stop me from scoring my own points in close range combat, but usually I just back away until I'm back into long range combat. And while the AI in the game is not half bad at defending or dodging in long range combat, it attacks infrequently at best, and even sometimes without thought for its attacks' actual capabilities.

I would like to be able to test the fighting out when playing against another human being, but for that I have to find another human being with a PSP and a copy of Gears of Destiny. I rather suspect close range combat with another human being would be an exercise in irritation, as it's set up somewhat like rock-paper-scissors. Attack beats throw, throw beats guard, guard beats attack. As for long range combat, well, that would be a little more interesting, especially with the wide variety of Nanoha-verse special attacks on display.

On that note, there are 23 characters in the game. Don't ask me who my main is, because I haven't decided. They're all fun to play as, although again I suspect a lot of that is my being familiar with all of them as a result of being a fan of the series in general. Some are better at close or long range than others, depending on their attack strength and available long range attacks. Though the game makes no outward note of this, they seem to have different amounts of health, even. Some attacks are repeated between characters, or at least versions thereof; usually there's some relation between the characters in question, and it's explained away in-universe with the "character X taught a version of that to character Y."

So what does this all boil down to? Like any game of its type, I certainly agree that Gears of Destiny appeals almost exclusively to fans of the source material in question. I'd like to believe that the fighting is exciting and interesting enough to be fun anyway, but first we have to see how long even I stick with it, and a week isn't quite enough time to judge. If you have even a passing interest in the Nanoha series, it's absolutely worth it; otherwise it's an odd kind of fighting game with a lot of shiny explosions and not a whole lot else.


A Japanese (Cultural) Invasion

As long as I'm thinking about games, I suppose I might take a moment to wonder how many other people on this side of the Pacific share my particular gaming preferences. Or to put it differently: is there anyone else in the entire state of Maryland (or Massachusetts) that actually owns a copy of either Weiss Schwarz Portable or Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's Portable: The Gears of Destiny? Does the number of people with those games in the entire U.S. break into four digits? Or even three?

Normally, it's safe to say that out of a sufficiently large sample, the odds are that the answer to any question of that type is "yes". I can't be the only one to take an interest in the Weiss Schwarz card game, after all, and I'm certainly not the only one to be interested in Nanoha. But what actually are the odds that I'll meet another such person? Even when I was in Japan, I met pretty much no one who shared my interests. That was, of course, partially my fault, as I failed to seek out Doshisha's anime club. And there's a lesson that could perhaps be discussed about making your dreams happen. But that's for another time and another post.

What is certain is that the normal "well, plenty of other people are out there" is not necessarily as reliable. I know that I like to think - or perhaps "hope" is a better term - that it would be possible for Japanese media to do well in American markets. That if the Nanoha movie was a region 1 DVD rather than a region 2, it could sell as it is (it has English subtitles); if Weiss Schwarz was translated, it could find its own following here.

This necessarily assumes that there are a sufficiently large number of others like me who would buy these things, of course. Is that a valid assumption...? I don't actually know. Of course, some companies are finding out already. Fate/extra is one of those American PSP games I have, and pretty much all that was done to it was a straight translation of the dialogue before it received an American release. (As far as I can tell, anyway.)

Part of the problem is the fan base. We descend now into my rampant speculation... but I would suspect that Weiss Schwarz gets by on fans of each individual anime and game that see their characters in trading card form. Likewise, this new Nanoha PSP game has its own story and even some unique characters, but it's quite obviously directed pretty much entirely at someone who has played the prior PSP game and seen most if not all of the anime series plus the movie.

I'm not going to say that those people don't exist in the U.S., because I'm clearly a counterexample to that. But to bring the card game, or either of the aforementioned PSP games, over to the U.S., they would first have to be translated, and that costs money. So the question is, is there enough of a fan base to make enough money back in return for that investment?

Fans try to make up for the lack of demand by creating fan translations of works. Even I might do that for the Gears of Destiny game... I don't have the skill to create a patch for the game (or the desire, for that matter), but I damn well might translate at least the story. But then, what need is there to create a localized version? The fans have their translations, and can buy the original version. No one else will even notice that the game exists.

In short, if I want to see these kinds of games sold in American stores (as they manifestly deserve to be, in my most likely highly biased opinion), all I can do is ensure that Japanese media gains wider exposure and wider mainstream acceptance in American society. So that's what I'll do.


The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

If you're wondering what I've been doing over the past few weeks, well, part of that has to do with finals. Last few weeks of a semester are always heavy on the workload. Of course, I was done with everything several days ago, so what was I doing over the past few days...? That also has a simple answer: Skyward Sword.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is the newest incarnation of that all too famous franchise. Had I not been playing it quite intensely over the past few days (I believe I logged over forty hours of play time), I might even be inclined to listen to the usual charge of "making the same game over again." Certainly, Nintendo loves its franchises, mostly because they keep bringing in the money. Mario, Pokemon, and Zelda would count as the big three, I think, although certainly they aren't the only ones. (Metroid also comes to mind.)

And there is a grain of truth to the argument, really. Certainly, playing through Skyward Sword, I saw all of the same elements that I've seen in prior Zelda games. I won't go into too much detail, of course, since no doubt there are people that might read this who don't want the game spoiled. What I will say is this: Skyward Sword deserves to be compared favorably to any of its predecessors. In my opinion, it is the best iteration of the series since, and including, Ocarina of Time.

Yes, I just claimed that it's better than that venerable N64 title. There's a simple reason for that: this game is interactive in a way no modern Zelda game has ever tried to be.

I am a huge fan of the bow, both inside the Zelda games and, to be honest, in real life. (Which isn't to say I have any skill with one.) I fondly remember the Hidden Village from Twilight Princess, which was basically one long excuse to snipe a bunch of enemies. I consider it no spoiler to say that the bow does appear in Skyward Sword as well.

And once I had it, I quickly realized that I could play with it. One of the features that appears in Skyward Sword? Equipment can be upgraded, and you have a limited number of gear slots to play with for stuff that isn't mission critical. In past games, you'd find things like an upgraded quiver and bomb bag, which would then simply be part of your gear. In this one, you have to carry those kinds of things with you, and carrying one means you don't have space for another.

Which meant that in the end, I was ludicrously bow-heavy. Normally, you can carry 20 arrows; I was carrying sixty-five. With a fully upgraded bow to boot. In between that, a shield, and four bottles (two fairies, two potions), that was it for my gear.

The point being, though? Someone else's final loadout will look very different than mine. Someone else went straight for the slingshot upgrade and stocked up on seed satchels. Perhaps another went for a balanced system that didn't prioritize anything in particular. Depending on how you wanted to play, you could leave all of that at home and focus on carrying useful potions!

Is it the same style game as the last several Legend of Zelda games? Broadly, yes. That doesn't mean that it can't be a fresh experience, in its own ways. And damned fun to boot.


The Modern Republican Party

This morning, I was reading the Boston Globe and found that someone had sent in a very interesting letter to the editor. You know, given the frankly pathetic state of the race for the Republican presidential nomination, it's not surprising that some conservatives might be losing faith a little in their ability to take the 2012 presidential election against Obama. And this letter reflected that slightly, although it was not a gloomy or disappointed one at all.

No, in fact, it was a slight admonishment, because we're all looking at the wrong race, it seems. Who cares about the presidential election? There are 30+ seats up for grabs in the Senate after all. Would that it have stopped there, as a simple reassurance that all is not lost for the Republican party even if they don't beat Obama next year. Sadly, the letter instead chose to leave us with this thought: that the Republicans, in taking control of the Senate, will be able to ensure that Obama can't do anything through 2016.

Seriously? I wish I could say this surprised me, that the goal here is to make Obama look bad by any means necessary. Of course, it doesn't. Pretty much since we started this presidency, we've been seeing this almost blind hatred of Obama from the right wing that's completely disconnected from anything he's actually doing. We've been seeing that the modern Republican Party would rather shut this entire country down than to see it run by Obama. And then they have the audacity to turn around and accuse the left wing of trying to destroy America!

The worst part? If that's the course that the modern Republican Party chooses, we're all going to pay the price.


Safety and Control

Most cities, including Boston, have laws requiring that public events and protests be approved ahead of time, through permits and the like. If there is a justification for removing the Occupy protesters, this could be one possible argument. In this vein, the city argued at the recent court hearing regarding Occupy Boston that said occupation was in violation of fire and safety codes.

Well, they're only concerned about the safety and health of the protesters, right? Surely that's not such a bad thing! Of course, then the Boston police department promptly took away the fire-resistant tent that the protesters tried to bring in. The answer to "how can we change what we're doing to bring ourselves in line with these safety codes, we don't want anyone dying either" was "get out". And besides being somewhat in bad faith on the city's part, that's incompatible with the goals of the Occupy movement.

That's what I've come to realize regarding the situation. After all, one part of the message here is that the people's voice in government has been co-opted by the 1 percent, that the system is set up so that only those people with money are truly able to exercise their First Amendment rights. I was unable to determine whether the proper permits would cost anything to be issued to Occupy Boston. I rather suspect those permit applications would be denied, in much the same way that the city refused to deal in good faith on the protesters' efforts to create a safe protest.

That is a violation of First Amendment rights. A system that facilitates safe protests is one thing, but I don't think that's the system we have. I think the system we have is one that functions to control what protests can happen, in the name of "safety". Unfortunately, it probably wouldn't be easy for the city to ensure that people can safely practice their First Amendment rights, but it is necessary.

I call upon the city of Boston and Mayor Menino to prove me wrong, regarding my suspicions about control. Let Occupy Boston stay, and work with them to allow them to conduct their protest safely while remaining in Dewey Square.


The Limits of Religious Freedom

So I ran across yet another political pledge just recently. Heaven knows that Norquist's bullshit "no new taxes" pledge is doing more than its fair share of harm to Congress's ability to get things done, besides being ideologically inconsistent in its actual application, so I can't say I'm entirely excited by this proliferation of them in this campaign season.

Well, this one's about religious freedom, right? Surely there isn't a problem with that. I suppose I can give it a look.
FIRST, that religious liberty in full is the birthright of every American, as recognized by the First Amendment. It entails the right to believe, worship, and practice in accord with one’s faith, subject only to the limits imposed by the U.S. constitution and the Bill of Rights.  The right of religious freedom must be applied equally to all religious communities in America, including Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and others. At the same time, religious freedom does not mandate belief, but protects the right not to believe.
Restate the First Amendment. Okay, that's fine. I'm actually quite impressed that they listed anything other than Christianity, considering how "religious liberty" is usually used in place of "Christians are so oppressed by the government!" (Spoiler alert: that's what's going on here too, they're just hiding it better than usual.) But I digress.
Religious freedom includes the right to employ religious arguments, or religiously-informed moral arguments, when contending for or against laws and policies...
Aaaaaaand stop. Knew I wouldn't make it all the way through.

In short: No. No it does not. Straight religious arguments have absolutely no place in public discourse.

Now, it's possible my definition of a "religious argument" is different than theirs. What I see that as, though, is an argument purely from religious grounds, one that (for example) argues "given that God has banned homosexual behavior, it should be illegal as a matter of public policy." Unfortunately for that argument, my gods do not give a damn on the topic. The people that believe differently, or those that have no belief at all, simply have no reason to listen to that argument and no reason to support such policy on those grounds.

Basically, creating public law or policy on religious grounds means imposing those religious arguments and beliefs on this entire nation. By definition, it is a violation of my right to the free exercise of religion, as well as that of every other person who does not share the faith in question.

So yeah. Make all the religious arguments you want. And I suggest you not be surprised when they are completely ignored as irrelevant, indeed potentially harmful, to the discussion of law and policy.


November's End

Well, NaNoWriMo is over. Not in success this year, sadly enough. *sigh* If nothing else, I know why it happened. Distractions took over. Too many video games. All the usual, and so on.

Anyway, I will be coming back online here, now that November's over. I don't have anything to post right away, but I've got a few ideas bouncing around that deserve fleshing out into full posts. So look forward to that.